Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Saint Louis Roman Catholic Church - Table of Contents
Saint Louis Roman Catholic Church - 1886-1889
Main Street @ Edward (NW)
Architects: Schikel & Ditmars
Founded 5 January, 1829
The oldest Catholic congregation in the city, the founding of the parish is rooted in events which had occurred some years earlier. In 1821, Rev. Patrick Kelly, one of nine Catholic priests then serving the Diocese of New York State, visited Buffalo. Whilehere he conducted the first public Catholic mass in the city at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. At that time, with only five Catholic families living in the city, the seeds of St. LouisChurch were sown.
Seven years later, Rev. Stephen Badin arrived in Buffalo and held services in the courthouse on Washington Street and Batavia (Broadway) Road and in the home of Louis Stephen Le Couteulx deChaumont on Main at Exchange Streets. Le Couteulx, the city'sfirst pharmacist, had arrived in Buffalo in 1804 after assistingt he Catholics of Albany in establishing the first Catholic congregation outside of New York City. He was instrumental inencouraging the Catholics of Buffalo to do the same.
The following year, on 5 January, 1829 Le Couteulx deeded the land on the Corner of Main and Edward Street to Bishop John DuBois and the Diocese of New York State with the intent of establishing the first church, school and cemetery in the city for all Catholics "without distinction of nationality." Later that year, the Bishop sent Rev. Nicholas Mertz to Buffalo who organized the residents as a church society. They rented a former Methodist meeting house on Edward Street between Pearl and Main Streets and began to hold regular services there.
The first church
Although poor, the people of the congregation desired to build a church of their own. Unable to donate money, they took it upon themselves to construct their first house of worship. In 1830 they began work on the building, placing the cornerstone on 8 July, 1831. They cut oak logs in the forests along present day Delavan Avenue and dragged them to the site using oxen. The cracks between the logs were filled in with a mixture of straw and clay. In 1832 they dedicated the Lamb of God Church, a crudely constructed log building. This first house of worshipwas constructed jointly by and for the German, Irish and French Catholics settling in the city.
Almost immediately, the friction that would become such a part ofthe early years of the church began. The diverse ethnic groups would taunt each other as the sermons were delivered in a language other than their own. By 1831, the Germans began complaining of the pastor not allowing them to manage the financial affairs of their church. This problem remainedthroughout much of the decade and resulted in the 2 December, 1838 incorporation of the church by the German member Board ofTrustees. By doing so, under the laws of New York State, they had gained full title to all property of the church. This actionreflected the Franco-German tradition of lay management of parish matters, one which the immigrants had brought with them from Europe.
Throughout the years, the discontent amongst the various ethnic groups in the congregation had disastrous effects upon its internal harmony. In 1837, the Irish members seceded from the church to establish St. Patrick's Church, Washington and Clinton (destroyed), where they could worship in the English language. In 1843, a group of recently arrived German immigrants, unhappy with the attitude of the Board of Trustees, left to form St.Mary's Church on Broadway (destroyed). In 1850, the French members left to form St. Peter's French Catholic Church, nowknown as Our Lady of Lourdes. With these departures, the congregation became predominantly German.
The problems of German autonomy peaked in late 1840s when the essentially German congregation informed Bishop Timon that he was not welcome to make their church his cathedral or to use their rectory as his residence. The Bishop then retreated to St.Patrick's. After that, the issue of German autonomy once again became prevalent. The Bishop requested that the Board of Trustees relinquish the deed to the property to the Diocese and upon their refusal to comply, he ordered the church closed, allowing no priest to officiate at services there. The churchremained closed for two years while the Board and the Bishop settled their differences.
The second church
In spite of the internal turmoil and duress, the parish grew rapidly as the arriving immigrants began worshipping in what was then the only Catholic church in the city. In 1843, under the direction of Rev. Alexander Pax, the congregation constructed astone and brick church around the first church. With its completion, they dismantled the log building and carried it out the front doors. They once enlarged the building, in 1847, but not without the usual level of controversy with which the early congregants are known. The Bishop had originally denied their request to enlarge the building. While he was away in Rome, theBoard of Trustees took it upon themselves to order the work done without his permission, resulting in their excommunication upon his return.
The congregation remained here until fire destroyed the building on 25 March, 1885. Known as the Great Music Hall fire, the flames originated in the Music Hall across the street. High winds carried the flames across the street destroying the building. Within seventeen days of the fire, the congregation had erected a temporary frame building where they worshipped until the completion of the current house of worship.
The third church
After a year of planning, on 29 May, 1886 they placed the cornerstone of the new building. Three years later, they dedicated their $265,000 house of worship. Designed in the Gothic style common to Europe in the 14th Century, the building's245 foot tower resembles that of the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany. The Seth Thomas clock, a gift of Judge Elbridge Spaulding is a memorial to the two firemen killed in the tower of the former church during the fire of 1885. One man leapt from the tower to avoid being burned while the other fell into theruins of the church from it. The clock is said to be in the approximate position of the original one.
The building, constructed on the cruciform plan, seats 1,900 people. The High Altar, a gift of Miss Emma Lang, was designed by Schikel & Ditmars, the architects of the church. The Lautz Marble Works carved the 35 foot high, 24 foot wide altar.Constructed at a cost of $15,000, it features a life size statue of St. Louis, the patron of the church, who died during the Crusades in 1270. The statue is contained in a niche over which is a reproduction of the belfry spire. The seven long windows of the apse were made by the Royal Munich Art Institute in Germany.Those of the nave were made by Reister & Frohe of Buffalo.
The Kimbal organ in the rear of the church was originally used in the Temple of Music during the Pan American Exposition in 1901. Rev. Paul Hoelscher acquired it for the church in 1903. [Current research questions the origin of the organ.]